Monday, 29 December 2008

Love hate relationship

The joys of living in such a stunning place are very occasionally overshadowed by the way this country works (or doesn't). Yet again, yes - again, the boat yard have told us that they do not have room for us (a lie), they do not have the manpower to get our boat out (possible, hey, why not give one of yer mates a call and get the manpower, eh?) and we have to phone them back on 9 January (my 38th birthday, as it happens) to "discuss" it. We were hoping to come out tomorrow or Wednesday.

Honestly, it really does beggar belief how crap some things are here. There seems to be this weird macho approach which involves being as obstructive as possible so that when whatever you need actually does happen, you are so immensely grateful that you don't mind paying the ridiculous fee that is charged. It seems that it is "cool" to refuse to offer the service that you supposedly offer. Weird.

I hate to sound all Tory about this, but it does seem that as there is no competition here and there never has been, no one seems to bother trying and it is okay to be completely rubbish at your job. There is no service culture here; something we both love for the most part but when you really do need to get something done, it goes beyond downright fkg annoying.

So we are still on the quay in Kotor and in reality, I'm sure we won't be lifted by the yard for at least another month. Frankly, ridiculous.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Boze! It's christmas! Not that you'd know it.

Happy christmas to all our family and friends, old and new. Thank you for supporting us and the good ship Monty B.

We are marooned again, but this time on land. The road between us and town has been closed, indefinitely, as yesterday a loaded truck crashed into the sea taking half the road with it. So our plans for Christmas Eve drinking in Kotor Old Town have turned into veggie sausage rolls, a bottle of wine and Alabama 3 tinnily playing through the XBox.
Feeling slightly homesick and still wish we'd made it back to Blighty this christmas. But that's the way it goes, I guess.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Easy to please

I've taken to baking cakes. Not for myself, I add, but in an attempt to plump up my friend Birgitte who is lucky enough to need huge amounts of calories to aid her breast-feeding of twins.

Spurred on by my first effort - an almost impossible to fuck-up carrot cake - this time I have made up the recipe for a coffee sponge. Made up as I cannot find one on the internet which matches the ingredients that I have in the kitchen so I have improvised.

So, who is easy to please? Our Tim, of course. My culinary improvisation included spooning out a hefty amount of sugar and sunflower oil from the mixing bowl as things began to drown in it, and putting it in a bowl on the side to be washed down the sink later. "Wow, that's delicious!" announces Tim, as he sticks his paw in it and sucks off the rancid sugary, oily ming. The end result may not meet the taste test of a leggy, Danish blonde but I have a feeling it won't go to waste.

Along similar lines, well, it's related to eating at least. I think we've been in the Balkans too long as yesterday I made the bold statement, "The cabbage is really GREAT at the moment - we must do more with it". Hmmmm. Vegetarian diet in a strictly carnivorous, locally-produced food only (mountainous) country getting a little tedious, dear?

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

We've lost our anchor dragging virginity!

We nearly lost the boat on Friday night. We spent 4 hours - 1am till 5am - standing on the road in Muo, in the pissing down rain, near freezing temperatures, on our way home from a night out, watching Monty B at anchor being absolutely battered by one of the most horrendous storms I've ever seen.

She was heeling so much at times that she looked like she'd go over. The water was white with gusts of wind nearing force 9. Just terrible. We stood and watched, aghast, unable to do anything as there was no way we could reach her in the tender. At some point, our mate Dan turned up on his way home from Kotor so we spent some of the time sheltering in the car, just watching, waiting, worrying, praying for it to stop.

Then the worst happened and she dragged her anchor, moving along the shore and getting closer to it with every gust. No idea how long for, time stood still, I was hysterical, crying and yelling, there was nothing we could do. I had to drag Tim away from the tender with all my strength, screaming at each other, as he wanted to go out to her but would have been killed. We dragged about 200 metres in all and ended up 10 metres from shore. Just as I was contemplating swimming, but realised I couldn't get on board anyway, and began planning what we would do when she grounded, plus ringing everyone boaty that we knew to come and help us, the wind suddenly dropped - it was like someone flicked a switch. We ran to the tender, jumped in (she was filled up like a kid's paddling pool), the outboard wouldn't work (how typical!), Tim desperately yanking on the ripcord whilst I held onto Dan's hand as hard as I could to stop us being whisked out into the bay. We gave up trying and just paddled like crazy to the boat, got the engine on, took an hour to haul anchor as the voltage on our battery was well down then reanchored just as the sky was showing signs of light. Moments later, the wind veered 180 degrees and started howling from the other direction. It was about 1 degree c, we were soaked to the skin from spending 4 hours in driving rain (me in a mini dress and boots) and frozen to the core.

Spent the next few hours under damp blankets, dropping in and out of sleep. The wind dropped around 9am so we went home to save our poor dogs who' d been in for 14 hours alone and hadn't even pissed anywhere. They are so good! We got changed, checked the forecast, it was shit, so we took the dogs to Jason's then back on the boat until darkness fell and the wind dropped. Then home to a pizza and bed by 9pm. Exhausted. Yesterday, we moved the boat onto the quay in Kotor, she is now trussed up like a turkey and hopefully, safe. Money is no longer an issue - we have to keep her safe.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Hauling a boat here is like pulling teeth (at the moment, I'd recommend doing neither in Montenegro)

This is the great moody view of the mountains from our apartment, on those rare stormy days.

We still haven't got the boat out of water. We are paralysed by having to rely on locals to help and our own need to keep costs within budget. We've decided that if it isn't sorted by the weekend (at least an agreed plan with a boatyard) then we are just going to have to go to Tivat and pay stupid money.

We spent the night on the boat last night as the winds were so strong - a big Bura blow was building up when we got back from work and we were worried. As always, we were solid as a rock and didn't budge an inch but the sleepless night kinda focuses the mind! Despite the cold, the wind, the awful noise (I tried to sleep in the saloon in my sleeping bag as the slamming in our cabin left it impossible to sleep - it's a bit like a ferry slamming into the boat every few minutes which, strangely enough, makes you jump out of your skin even though you know it is just the waves and it's okay), it was still good to be back on board.

But I'm zonked. Had next to no sleep at all - though Tim a bigger zombie than me and is making no sense today whatsover which is partly why I elected to go home and walk the dogs instead of work with him earlier! Back to looking pale, tired and old - wow, it's only taken one night! I was looking so much better too - so much more alive and bright from having sooo many good night's sleep in my new bed. It was good to be with Monty B and there was no way we could have relaxed back at the apartment - living on land is nowhere near as interesting or stimulating - which are the things I really need to keep me perky. We just need to get our bed extended on board then living aboard for at least 9 months of year would be a pleasure!

Check out the temperatures here for later this week - brrrrrrrr! Looks like winter is finally making an appearance.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Driving home for christmas - or not as the case may be

"We want a lift to the UK too!"

As I look at the staggeringly beautiful view from where I sit at my desk in the apartment, I wonder why I want to go home. But I do - only for a few weeks, I emphasise - but I need to see my friends. It will have been 18 months since we left the UK, come christmas, and it has come to the point that I feel a strong need to see the people I love.

One of my very best friends has a child that I have never seen, two others now have three children, the youngest of whom I don't even know. Another pair now have a little girl who was only a baby when we left. I must be getting old; but seeing my friends' children grow up has become important to me.

Plus, there are several others who I care about dearly and miss - I want to spend some valuable time with them.

Tim hasn't seen any of his family since we left and is unlikely to unless we return to the UK. Time is ticking.

But, our lift home at christmas has fallen through so we are now unable to get back. We have to do it by road because of the dogs but my car won't make it back there and it's a long way for a single driver anyway. Plus the costs, unless split, make no sense. there anyone driving from the Balkans to the UK for christmas that would like to lift share?? We could even get ourselves to Italy if needs be. If so, please email me or ring 00382 67859309. HELP!!!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Boat separation anxiety

After 14 months of living aboard Monty B, we moved onto dry land yesterday. Just in the nick of time too as the weather has now turned. An angry low is passing overhead, the wind is howling (well, no, it's rustling now we are on land) and waves are kicking up like crazy across the Boka. I think we've squeezed all we can out of the summer - we've been at anchor for 6 months which isn't bad going.

We are in a lovely apartment in Prcanj, very kindly rented to us by our very first customers on a Day out on Monty B who immediately became friends. The deal is, we have the apartment over winter, they get free sailing when they come out here. How good is that? The perfect non-capitalist approach to getting what you need in life - 'tis a pity Niksic brewery doesn't operate on similar lines.

The novelty of space, two sofas, a huge bed, unlimited water, hot water will take a while to wear off. We have a fantastic sea and mountain view too, we are just one row back from the water so I still get my fix every day.

It is just goddamned weird NOT being on the boat. The world doesn't rock and it's so quiet - and easy. Which works both ways and at the moment, with forecast winds of F7/8 across the Adriatic, I am glad to be on land. I just need to go and check on Monty B - she is all alone, on a punta down the road, being blown about with no one to look after her. The sooner we get her hauled out, the better - then I can stop worrying............. must go.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Tree hugging in Biogradska Gora

The occasional waft of autumn leaves had left me wanting, so last weekend we headed north, into the mountainous, rugged interior of Montenegro. Four hours later, we were camped on a bed of fallen beech and maple leaves, beneath what was left of the canopy of the awesome Biogradska Gora, one of the few remaining virgin forests in Europe.

I had been there in the spring with my friend, Eleanor, so it came as something of a shock to see an almost entirely evaporated lake, Biogradska Jezero. The jungle-like virgin forest, brilliant green yet dark and dank beneath the heavy spring canopy had been replaced by a bright, sun-lit golden world. The silvery trunks of the beech trees had become fragile and slender without their lifeblood; their canopy of luscious, succulent green leaves. The forest floor which had been carpeted with white wild garlic flowers was now deep with fallen russets, oranges, yellows and painfully beautiful reds.

Every breath of wind sent clouds of leaves falling, like snow, from the highest branches.

I got my autumn fix; a heady, soul-cleansing few days and I yet again felt the urge to build a modest A-frame home in the mountains, for me and my brood (of Jack Russells).

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Foggy mornings get me out of bed

The water is so still at the moment, it is so silent it feels like I have cotton wool in my ears. It is a weird sensation being on the water when there is not a breath of wind, not a ripple. Your body still knows it is in something that is floating, so you feel a little floaty yourself but in any other way, you could be in a house.

The high pressure system we are under at the moment is causing the bay to be enveloped in thick fog every morning. If the sound of cruise liners sounding their fog horns doesn't wake me, the earthy, primeval smell of fog drifts in through the cabin hatch and like a child, I wake up immediately, throw on my fleecy clothes and stick my head up on deck. It has been the same every day for over a week but the damp, white mornings remain a thing of wonder.

I paddled out in Billy the other morning, slowly dipping the paddle into the perfectly still water, just sat still and breathed it all in.
In a few weeks time we will be taking Monty B out of the water for the winter. It is times like this that I will miss.
I won't miss having a wet bum every morning though (from the dew on Billy's sides, nothing more exciting than that!).

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Boka turns nasty in pre-Adventure Race drama

I was awoken at 0530 on the day of the Adventure Race, by the onset of strong winds. However, keeping to plan and our volunteer duties, we hauled anchor at 0900 to head off towards Tivat to help with the race. There was a SW wind blowing around 20 knots and angry skies but nothing too intense to worry about. We debated putting some sail up as we left but on reaching the middle of bay, we were glad we hadn't as the wind was gusting hard and it had quickly kicked up quite a swell. We moved the dogs below as spray started coming over the deck and cockpit. Umm, good fun but very unusual for what is, essentially, a big lake.

Menacing, dirty clouds formed a line ahead of us towards Perast and Verige, blasting along and swirling low. Looking like thick, black smoke, the bottom of the clouds were being sucking vertically upwards and towering above us. Behind, towards Kotor, visibility was diminishing as the cloud and rain closed in. Umm, things were deteriorating by the minute and certainly more severe than forecast, but it felt like a challenge - we know the Boka, we weren't out at sea, how bad could it get?

As we surfed down mini-waves, towards the Verige channel, the sound that every helmsman dreads began: the revs dropped, then dropped again and before you could say "Fkg hell, why does this ALWAYS happen when you least need it to?", the engine cut out. "TIIIMMM!! SHIIIITTTT!!!". Quickly, we rigged up the jib sheets (they were coiled and tidied on the bow) and we got enough headsail out to take up downwind at a pedestrian pace. Tim then had to tighten up the rig as we had it slack while at anchor. He then went below to bleed the fuel system.

I felt unusually on edge. We'd been in this situation before, we knew what to do but the line of clouds we were heading towards was like nothing I had seen before (and believe me, I spend a lot of time looking at the sky). My catastrophic imagination had tornadoes and lightening bolts galore, building up especially for our arrival. The updraught from the clouds looked incredible, the wind was intensifying and spray was blowing all around. As I stared hard ahead, my fear grew as the water about 1km ahead became very disturbed indeed. It was being blown around, seemingly several metres into the air, by squally winds and a yacht appeared from the gloom, heeling right over, whilst under bare poles and motor, legging it out of there as fast as it could. SHIT! There was no way we were deliberately sailing into that lot.

"TIMMM!!" We needed to get the mizzen up, I couldn't leave the helm. Driven by a little panic on my part, we tried to reef it. A bad decision with hindsight: it didn't need reefing, it isn't an easy sail to reef and we'd never done it before. But I was scared of having too much canvas up and being hit by a freak gust if we got into the middle of whatever was ahead of us.

Then it started getting very messy. The wind started swinging around violently, backing the headsail and I fought to control the boat. Friends of ours, Laura and Tony, who have a vast amount of sailing experience were en route to Tivat by road and could see us. Laura phoned, "Are you okay??", "Err, yes and no", "Do you need a tow from Dave??", "Nah, we'll be fine". Idiot.

Things went from bad to worse. Beam on to the gusting wind, we couldn't get the mizzen up, then as the wind switched again we tried to furl the headsail but the lazy jib sheet (with no stopper knot as it was rigged in a hurry), let fly out of the runners, nearly flogging Tim to death. We watched in grizzly fascination, unable to do a thing, as it whirled itself a zillion times around the working jib sheet, rendering our headsail utterly useless. Brilliant!

Meanwhile, we were being blown, fast, towards an uninviting rocky shoreline with little control. My phone rang - it was Dave. Laura had, very sensibly, called him anyway. "Do you need a tow?", "Ermm.......", "Okay, you do, I'll be here as soon as I can".

A ghastly 15 minutes ensued - wind all over the place, Tim managed to unravel the jib sheet and we got the headsail back up but we couldn't get moving due to the poor set of the mizzen and fluctuating wind direction. The boat wanted to move sideways, not forwards. As we edged closer to shore, the wind suddenly dropped completely. We were head to (no) wind, in irons, drifting towards rocks 50 metres away and closing. (Please, someone, tell us how we could have sailed out of this).

Tim was down below desperately bleeding the system, three attempts at starting the engine failed. I rang Dave, panicking at this point and feeling completely helpless, "How close are you?" I squeaked, "You should be able to see us in a minute, where exactly are you?".

"THIS IS USELESS, TIM!" I yelled, on another failed attempt at starting the engine. "We need to drop the anchor, NOW, while we still can". "One more try....", shouted the ever-optimistic Tim. Panting by this point (a trick I've learnt from the terrified Louis), I turned the ignition key again, praying as it turned over, juddered.......then sprang into life. I gave it a few seconds then turned Monty B from the shore and away as fast as we could.

At this point, what appeared to be a tiny powerboat, came crashing through the waves towards us, carrying our heroes, Dave and Peter. Both were soaked to the skin with seawater, having come through a 2m swell in the bay. They had done a magnificent job at getting to us and Dave's boat isn't really built for that kind of thing. They shadowed us back across the bay, to Ljuta, which was slow but steady going. Kotor and Vramac were completely invisible in could and the black filth continued to swirl away upwards from the mountains - I've never seen the clouds so low.

Amazingly, we remained dry until we dropped anchor in relative safety, in our usual spot in Ljuta. We waved our sodden heroes bye by, turned off the engine, calmed the dogs then ourselves with a glass of red. Jesus, all that and it was only 1115!
So, okay, the post mortem.

As always, you pick events over again and again to try to work out what you could have done better. But when all's said and done, it was just one of those situations where several factors combine (someone reckons it takes three things) to turn something minor into something much more major. And it all happens very quickly.

A few points to note:

1) We should have rigged the jib sheets before leaving, in case of emergency, ditto the rig.

2) We thought it was crap in the fuel system that had caused the problem, dislodged by the sea-state and it is one of those ironies that this only happens when the weather is bad ie. when you least want it to. However, we have had the same problem several times since and we now think their is an airleak somewhere. We do need to clean the tanks out this winter though.

3) We need to learn how to get out of irons.

4) We shouldn't have tried to reef the mizzen and it would have made sense to get it up immediately (I didn't want to leave the helm).

5) A hard call and great with hindsight but once things had gone tits up with the jib sheets tangling the headsail, Tim should've gone below and bled the system as this took far less time than it did to sort out the sails. But as I say, easy with hindsight.

6) But most importantly, echoed by our fellow sea-folk, was that we should have asked for assistance earlier i.e. before it became critical. We would, of course, help anyone in this situation - it is not an imposition! (except, apparently, for the yacht that went racing past us towards Kotor as we were flying about in circles, quite clearly in trouble - cheers, whoever you were!!). We are used to getting on with things alone but you need to know when to ask for help. And we were hugely grateful for the support we got.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Near miss

Something strange happened today.

I was walking up the old Austro-Hungarian track above Muo to Vramac ridge with the dogs. It is a typical zig-zag, heavily built stone track similar to the Ladder of Cattaro, behind Kotor. After an hour or so of gentle uphill, I stopped to take in the view and have some water when, out of the quiet, there was a truly strange, heart-stopping sound of crashing through the undergrowth below me. For a moment, I thought a herd of beasts was stampeding down the mountain but the crashing was followed seconds later by the clattering and banging of rocks, cascading below and the realisation struck my shocked brain that there was some kind of landslide going on. Not for the first time in my life, I was unable to act or take in what was happening and just stood there, as though waiting to see what would happen next.

Then it went silent, save a few stray boulders continuing to tumble.

I decided to turn back, feeling quite shaky, jumping at the crunch of every twig (no hero I). Half way down, the dogs then I, found the reason for all this madness. A large tree had decided to choose its moment to give up living and throw itself down the mountainside, taking with it everything in its path and smashing into several pieces. Huge, cuboid slabs that had been laid more than 150 years ago, had been easily uprooted from their comfortable positions and tumbled headlong down the slope. I continued walking, counting my lucky stars (even the dogs looked worried), and as I looked back up the zig-zags, a dark, troubled scar of fresh earth, combined with the rock fall and wooden detritus made for some sharp intakes of breath.

It is always easy to say.......however, if I had been 10 minutes later, I may not have this story to tell. And if it had been a day later, 30 Adventure Race runners would have been panting their way up that very path.

Doesn't bear thinking about.
Pic is sundown at our current position. Nice.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

An impromptu holiday and rain a comin'

This was sunset on one of our new dog walks, on Vramac ridge, the other night.

We ended up in Herceg Novi this weekend on a joint mission to attend a volunteers' meeting for the Adventure Race and cheer up our mate, Danny, who needed a bit of tlc aboard Monty B. Liquid refreshment included.

After a few drops of rain, little wind and some medicinal Skovin rose, we arrived in HN harbour. The combination of a cross-wind, a strange current, limited space to manoeuvre and an over-excitable/extremely annoying harbour master made for an interesting half an hour, culminating in the harbour master pulling in a line so hard that our bow swung into the quay and I had to leap off to hold the boat off. Fkg idiot (him, not me!).

Tim was our representative at the meeting as Danny and I watched the world go by, and downed more rose. He returned with the news that we are on the "Water Team". We are going to follow the kayak section of the race in Monty B, being support. So there may be some legs needing massages after all! (I had volunteered myself as resident masseur).

Steve and Denise turned up and an impromptu evening of boozing and fun ensued, including a full-on restaurant meal delivered and served up on deck. The resident vegetarians ate the chips.


Spent a second night in HN with Danny; it really did feel like a holiday and she finally de-stressed and got some sleep. Since returning to our anchorage in Sveti Stasije, we've been prepping the boat for the forecast heavy rains and storms later this week. Up to piggin elbows in acetone and sikaflex today, resealing port lights and making a right mess of re-caulking the missing bits on the deck (one of the dogs, I suspect Louis, likes picking the deck caulking and pulling off lengths of it). Well actually, it wasn't that much of a mess until timmy very helpfully stood on the roped off part of the deck, plonking his size 11 across the sikalflex, and whilst being yelled at put his foot down twice, treading it's black stickiness all over the teak. Apparently that was my fault for not making the bit I'd done obvious enough - ropes and propped up cockpit cushions, creating a little cage, were clearly not obvious enough.

It's very quiet tonight, very quiet indeed. Not a flutter of wind or a ripple on the water. Quite spooky.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

We're back, with added wheels!

We arrived back from our Aralus adventure, safe and sound and on wheels. Yes, my car was scraped back together from its hidey hole down a country lane in Greece and we are now mobile. I hate to say it (Babylon/petrol consuming terribleness), but it is bloody great to have the freedom to get out of the bay and into the mountains with the dogs. Truly.

I will add our Aralus adventure as soon as it is written but just wanted to put up this picture that I took today. The bay seems to look even more stunning, having been away for a week. I took this photograph as we returned in the dinghy from the morning dog-wee and bread run.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Monty's winter overhaul

Not so interesting to those on land but here is the list of things we've got to do to Monty B over the winter:


A new anchorage, gangsters and a weird coincidence

We found a new place to anchor - this is the view at sunset - absolutely gorgeous place. The first night we anchored there, we had a view of the forest fires across Lovcen NP. The fires looked like lava, streaming down the mountainside. Monstrous but hypnotising.
Unfortunately, the last time we were there, we took some people with us for a trip onto the island (it is prohibited) and got ourselves into a bit of bother with a man claiming to be security, his three (harmless) dogs that John saw off in an instant and a couple of goons in a powerboat (the most sinister element, with mobiles and dark glasses). The group of people we had with us consisted primarily of feisty females who were having none of it so our departure was not as rapid as it should have been (I remained on Monty B, circling nervously, the only person to have a bird's eye view of the entire situation but it was like watching a silent movie as I couldn't work out what was being said and could only judge how dangerous it was by body language). The island goon couldn't have looked dodgier if he'd tried; one eye and two fingers missing.

Suffice to say, we haven't returned, which is a real shame as it was the most peaceful spot we had found here up to now. We are a little too easily recognisable around here.


Last night I had a call from one of my very best friends, Gus. She has returned to work yesterday after her maternity leave and term time looming (she lectures at Nottingham Trent). Her manager was showing her a CD of holiday photos, from her recent holiday in Montenegro. She had spent a day out on a boat in the Boka. A double take by Gus as a photo of two white dogs appeared, then complete shock as the next photo was of me! Yes, my best mate's boss had spent the day on our boat! How bloody mad is that?? I can't quite get over it.

Proving what a small world it really is and how you should never do anything you need to escape from as you will always be found!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

A Year on Monty B

Neither of us can believe that we've been living aboard Monty B for a whole year. I still often look at her in awe - “Is that boat really ours?”. I fall further in love with her, the more I get to know her. Almost every time we paddle towards her, or step back on board, I feel a well of warmth and pride that she is part of us and is at the core of everything we do. It is still so fresh and new, despite being a year in and not exactly having taken her far.

Those first few months aboard were so beautiful but also completely bewildering. The beauty has not waned: the sunrise, the sunset, the moonrise, the starry skies, the fish jumping, the wind, the ever-changing patterns and colours on the water – it always moves me, stirs the emotions and makes the eyes soft. It is my new drug – I am more than happy just to lie on a cushion and take it all in. How can you ever tire of nature, doing its thing?

We have learnt a huge amount though with every problem comes the realisation that we have a mountain to climb. We are getting quite good at bodge jobs (I blame Tim's period of employment for this, learning from a professional improviser in the face of having few resources). Everyone on boats has to be good at bodge jobs. But we also want to become good at doing a professional job too. This winter, with Monty ashore on blocks, we will have the time and space to move beyond just trying to put things right when they go wrong. We want to give her a proper overhaul. But it remains to be seen just how much we can get done with the resources at our disposal, both in terms of cash and what materials we can get hold of here. But we have the whole winter to concentrate on the job; so by the spring, she will be looking good and hopefully, leak free (or as leak-free as any old boat can be).

Tim has become an accomplished mechanic with the engine, nurturing it so it always purrs and it got us here in one piece which is testament to the way it has been looked after. Except at this very moment, as it happens, whereby we are becalmed and without engine as it has cut out mid-trip. Tim has his head in the engine compartment, dripping with sweat, bleeding things and replacing filters while I am on the look-out for some wind. (postscript: we ran out of fuel! Schoolboy error).

Autumn is going to be spent enjoying the sunshine (rather than hiding from it) and hopefully a bit of proper wind. It would be great if a Day out on Monty B continues for another month or so. We have been invited by Pete and Imy to crew the beautiful 60 footer, Aralus, from Split in Croatia, via Venice and Sicily to Lefkas (of all places!) in the middle of September. It will be invaluable experience, learning on such an amazing yacht with a great skipper who I trust implicitly and the lovely Imy whose happy, smiley face will get me through those pukey moments.

The foreseeable future is looking bright, much brighter than we could have believed a year ago. We have learnt so much, lived so much and seen so much beauty in a single year. I could never have imagined finding anything this fulfilling. Each day is still so special and we are finding both contentment and excitement in one bucket. And most of all, our plan actually seems to be working – yes, it really is – to all of you left back there: were we really so crazy?

Saturday, 23 August 2008

One year on

1015 16 August 2008
A year ago today we were struggling to fit our whittled down possessions into my Nissan Almera before eventually setting off at 10pm towards Dover, dizzy with the thought that we were finally leaving. A year on we are sitting on deck, being blown about to buggery in a freak summer gale, me tapping away and Timmy engrossed in Practical Boat Owner. I would say that a year's worth of experience has meant we now take the odd gale in our stride – and I guess, to a point, we do. But a year's worth of experience has also taught us that you can never be complacent, not for a moment – and in this case, we have been.

The weather has been scorchio every day for so long and our lack of internet access has meant that we have been a bit lax about checking the weather forecast. The skies felt a little odd last night and the air was tinged with smoke from a forest fire somewhere to the south. I slept on cushions on deck so I could feel the breeze on my skin and bask in the near-full moonlight. But I also wanted to keep one eye open as things just felt a bit weird. As the sun came up over the mountains, the wind picked up, the barometer had dropped and now we are in the throes of 25-30 knots southerlies which we are not remotely well placed for. The clouds are building, as is the wind, we cannot get a weather forecast but it definitely has the look of conditions that are going to get worse before they get better.

Our anchor windlass is out of action for the moment so we have two lazy lines and two mooring lines going back to a solitary concrete jetty. The lee shore (the shoreline we would be blown onto if our mooring didn't hold) is not much more than a boat length away and is rocky. We are moored bows-to so getting away in a hurry is not an option. So we are completely reliant on the lazy lines and hoping they hold. The engine is being warmed up, just in case and there is always something comforting about the hum of the engine when conditions are like this.

And a year ago today, my biggest concern was how to get an over-filled roof box to close.

0745 18 August 2008
Conditions didn’t get worse and all was well. Now sitting on deck with tears pricking my eyes as white rays of sunlight breach the mountain tops, spilling over to transform the bay from the cool, monochrome, sleepy place it was a few minutes ago. With the instant hit of blazing heat and perfect hot white light, the ancient rocks and scrubby plant life has burst into colour – man and machine wake up as the church bells chime from Kotor old town.

I was up at 0630 this morning, doing yoga on deck for the first time in ages. Our new mattress, courtesy of a friend’s dad (see Debts of Gratitude) has meant that I now sleep in when I get the chance so miss the absolute beauty of the dawn. I must get up earlier!

"Live music is over-rated"

11 August 2008
To quote Tim, the only person I have ever met that doesn't like music. But even he had to concede that Dave Clarke is a TECHNO GOD! Last week, for the first time since our arrival, Kotor's nightlife genuinely had something to offer. The four day Re Fresh festival was supposed to kick off with Darren Emerson waking up the dancefloor of Disko Maximus (the only club in the world which has tables on the dancefloor which people stand around, looking miserable whilst watching the DJ. Sadly, Emerson couldn't make it and was replaced by guys that played great techno but couldn't be described as Djs. However, a top night was had and I made it to bed around midday. On Saturday night the crowd at Maximus were just as impressed to see Timmy turn up at a nightclub as to discover what Djing actually means. I had forgotten what a good DJ sounds like – Dave Clarke was just such a cut above anything I have heard for so long. It reminded me of those heady techno-fuelled nights of the mid 90's, where you could find a full-on quality night most weekends. What happened to all of that? For a long time I had been thinking that I'd just tired of the same buzz but I now realise it is because that style of techno just isn't played any more in the UK and nothing else really does it for me. There are definitely some advantages to being in a country where the music scene is ten years behind.

No point getting too excited though as there will be many more nights of utter shite before something that good comes along again.

Home sweet home

1 August 2008
Something has changed and I don't know what it is – but I guess it has something to do with the news that our boat is N OT falling to bits. Suddenly this place feels like home – we feel settled here. My desire of the last six months to get on, get moving, set our “Round the World” plans in action has been replaced by a contentment with the here and now and just enjoying life.
Life here is great, it really is. Every single day brings something different and for what feels like the first time in my life, I am living in the present. The frustrations associated with the “sickness” of Monty B and the constant worry and stress has been lifted and although the jobs list has got no shorter, it all seems much more achievable now.

Some inspirational meetings of minds, firstly with the crew of Aralus (Pete and Imy) and secondly with a great couple with lots of connections to both our old and new lives, James and Lucie (our first charterers who became instant mates), has given our immediate and medium term plans a new impetus. Pete and Imy helped breathe new life back into Monty B by assuring us that she is a truly wonderful, strong beast of a boat and reminding us of how lucky we are to have chosen this path in life. James and Lucie have given us the confidence to take our ideas for A Day out on Monty B seriously and have very generously offered us their lovely apartment, for free, over the winter, so we have somewhere warm and dry to live whilst working on the boat. I hate to cop out of winter boat living on only our second year but the prospect of sleepless nights at anchor during gales, wet dogs and wet clothes and those bloody leaks is not that appealing. Our aim over the winter is to give the boat a complete overhaul and put all the necessary official bits into place to enable us to charter our boat officially next season. It has to be the way forward. We can see such a bright future ahead – at last, our plans seem REALISTIC!

I love living the dream but it's bloody good to have some reassurance that we are not living in cloud cuckooland and this thing can succeed. We are completely invigorated and excited by the whole “Day out on Monty B” idea and we know we can do it well.

So, our home for the next 12 months is going to be the Boka Kotorska. There is plenty of time in the future for blue water cruising – this is the ideal platform for building our skills and experience whilst making a wee bit of cash – and hey, I get seasick anyway!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

July on Monty B

I've left it far too long between posts to fill in all the details which is a real shame but there is good reason for it. I am experiencing the alien state of being very busy. Not something I'm particularly used to I have to say but now that the shock has worn off, I am having a brilliant time.

Our lives have been a combination of working hard for peanuts (looking after a beautiful 54 Hanse yacht and making her shine, for a nice boss who is just starting out in the charter business) and having the time of our lives taking people out for “A Day out on Monty B” (for generous donations). It is the best job in the world – we are completely in our element and though I do say it myself, we make a great team and are providing people with a top day out. We have also been doing sunset cruises: swimming at sundown in the middle of the bay with the engine off, G&Ts on deck whilst the sun sets behind the mountains. Everyone, including us, having a fantastic time. It is just so good. And we've made some new friends in the process.

But then you get the occasional bad luck day – like the other day – where, en route to pick up some Russians to take sailing, the bolts holding the windlass to the deck sheared off and if it hadn't been for Tim throwing himself onto the windlass, the whole lot would have gone overboard together with our anchor and chain (a very expensive fuck up). Then our guests didn't turn up and whilst waiting for them on the quayside, we were hit by a huge wash which sent the fenders and us flying and resulted in a scratched topside. Bugger. Some speedy releasing of lines and rapid departure prevented further damage but it was quite a shock and reminded us how dangerous quaysides can be and how our happiness is such a fragile thing which could gone in an instant if Monty B were seriously damaged.

As well as our boat cleaning and the tiny beginnings of our Monty B business, I am also working as “Boat Bitch” for a friend of ours who has a flashy Four Winns motor boat thing. My job is primarily to stop the boat hitting anything when we are moving and mooring up, tying good knots and looking like a hero when I drag up the (very light) anchor by hand / oh, and smiling lots. I get a free restaurant lunch, have a laugh and there's usually some booze chucked in. It's a 12 hour day though and I'm totally knackered by the end of it – ah, poor Squiresey! Tim would've got the job had he been more generously endowed in the chest region, apparently. I will ignore that for the sake of needing the cash at the moment. I also have to endure the humilation of tearing around in a motor boat, which goes too fast and plays loud R&B. I hide behind my shades but being blonde and buxom (rather than dark and skinny), I am a bit too easy to spot around here.

The best bit of news we've had in a long time involved one of those chance encounters that we so often seem to have. A beautiful 60 foot yacht called Aralus has shared our anchorage in Prcanj for the last month. The skipper and hostess were sitting out a few weeks before heading to Croatia to meet the owner. It was great to have some boaty mates as we are normally all alone at anchor here. Imy was a bright, tall and exceptionally generous spirited English woman and Pete, a true Aussie salty sea dog who had the reassuring air of someone you would trust with your life. To cut a long story short, Pete has breathed new life into Monty B by assessing our hull/rig situation and he reckons that our problems are nothing as bad as we had first thought.

He loved our boat and well impressed by our incredibly strong and well built rig. His analysis, after removing paneling to expose the hull, was that it may need a bit of fiberglass/metal strut reinforcement but other than that, it is absolutely sound. The rig HAD been over-tightened in Greece (our rig is, in fact, so strong that something had to give – in this case, the hull) and superficial damage had been done but there was no evidence of any structural damage to the hull. We will be doing the reinforcement work over the winter but for now, we are safe to sail in anything other than very strong winds.

And it is wonderful. It is so fantastic getting the sails back up and learning to sail once more.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

A new lease of life

I have a new boyfriend. He is happy, relaxed, looks like he's had a decent night's sleep and has a great sense of humour. Yes, Tim has finally had enough of working for Montenegro's Crappest Company. For six months Tim has worked his arse off, thanklessly, six days a week and has been almost permanently on call - whilst management are not prepared to put their hands in their pockets to properly equip the boats or even buy engine spares so the engines can be serviced. Their final insult was to insist that he works seven days a week, with no down time whatsoever, and insinuated that he was lazy.

So that was enough.

And it is great. We are both much happier and ready to put some of our own ideas into action.

On a personal level, seeing Tim working similar, if not more hours to those he worked in the UK, coming home at sundown, shattered and pissed off, was extremely frustrating. That is not why we left Britain and chose this life of freedom. I see my main role onboard as protecting Tim from his workaholic self and ensuring that a similar situation does not occur again.

We cannot worry about how we are going to survive this winter - we have the entire summer then autumn of potential opportunities ahead of us before winter comes. Winter will bring something entirely new, I am sure. Isn't that the whole point?

Monday, 5 May 2008

A boating life for me

Well, the reason for my fairly downbeat mood of late has been revealed: my old enemy, claustrophobia. A catalogue of factors including the rain (which literally does keep me captive in a small space), being in the same spot day after day with the ancient walls and towering mountains shutting out sunlight and hiding the sky and having a fairly predictable, unadventurous day were taking their toll.

The fear of our boat collapsing then the job/no job debacle were the final nails in the coffin of joy.

“Never bloody satisfied, that girl”, “Better than being at work”, “At least you are not in Nottingham”, I hear you say. Well, yes, I agree with all of these statements. However, I need a level of stimulation beyond exactly the same scenery every day and looking after my man and dogs. I am not a natural housewife; that is why I chose this life rather than mortgages, marriage and breeding. Looking after my dogs is enjoyable (most of the time) and so is cooking good food – but it ain’t enough. Not by a long stretch.

So, Tim finally got TWO days off work in a row last week so we headed off on Monty B, together with our friends Jason, Birgitte and Rosie (their gentle-natured but huge American Bulldog). Our destination was Zanjica, a small settlement with beach on the coast, just outside the mouth of the Boka. It was their Mayday celebrations and the opening of the beach bars so it was busy with youngsters getting pissed and dancing to Serbian pop music (which seemed to consist of the same four inane and terrible songs being played over and over again at a volume far beyond that of the speaker’s capabilities). The four of us and the dogs struggled over in Billy (our tender), who is not used to carrying such a weight, and joined the straggling crew of Brits downing beers on the beach. We were supposed to be heading back into the Boka before nightfall but were persuaded that the forecast was calm and we should stay over (we were on mooring buoy). The desire to watch the sunset and continue drinking beer was too great so we decided to stay. This would ordinarily be a stupid decision – but we took the advice of friends who are ex-liveaboards, live in the village and have moored their boat here many times.

And on this particularly occasion, it was a sound move. But I suspect more by luck than judgement as despite the calm conditions there was quite a swell all night; enough to put us off returning to shore in darkness once we’d returned to the boat for dinner. The anchorage is only sheltered from northerlies and completely open to the sea.

As nothing did go wrong, it was fantastic to awake to hot sun, an open sea view and to be away from shore. To celebrate (and cure the hangover), I donned wetsuit and dived off the boat. One of my favourite things. Though the water was too damned cold – head-hurting cold. I put on snorkel, mask and fins and swam to the rocks to check out the fish and found a few underwater caves. But it was just that bit too chilly to enjoy; but it stimulated the senses and the cold water shower on deck felt warm in comparison which was a bonus.

As we neared Kotor, back to towards the end of the Boka the following day it suddenly stuck me that we really didn’t need to go back onto the quay. Let’s drop anchor in Dobrota, I suggested. We had discussed possible anchorages with our ex-liveaboard friends and they told us there are only three decent places to drop anchor in the Boka: 1. at the end of the bay by Muo, 2. in a small indent near Ellas in Dobrota and 3. at Risan. The Dobrota location was exactly where I was hoping we could spend the summer and I’d been to check it out a few times. Our friends also have sunken mooring there which we can use once we have made it operational (got a diver down to attach chain) – which is all rather fateful as it is pretty much spot on where we want to be.

So, three days on, I am sitting on deck in a sarong and sunhat swinging around in a superb anchorage. We are the only boat anchored in the bay, the views are incredible and I am back on my own private island with only the lapping of the water, the whistle of the wind and bird-song for company. Since the moment we left the quay at Kotor, my mood lifted beyond all recognition. And this is despite the fact that the Bora has kicked up about 11pm till morning all three nights that we have been anchored here and I spent the first night on anchor watch until 5am. It doesn’t matter. Neither does it matter that the outboard ran out of fuel (schoolgirl error) whilst on the way to a friend’s barbeque, in the dark, alone, the other night. That is what a paddle is for.

I am alive again. I also have a couple of new possibilities for work lined up; all of which involve boats.

Last night, the sun turned the mountains pink and the water looked like you could walk on it, so glassy it became in the still of dusk. I lay in my hammock on the foredeck, rocking gently and sipping cold beer as the dogs played beneath me. Everything felt in its right place again. Which would have been perfect had my phone not rang, making me jump and struggle out of the hammock, knocking my beer flying over the deck and terrifying Louis. Ahh, bliss!

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Sexism alive and well in Montenegro

STOP PRESS: Katie Squires no longer has a job!

After spending several days this week, working for free, in my new role checking every system on every boat and getting them ready for charter, I am told at 6pm yesterday that I cannot do that job and have to go back to being a cleaner. And the reason why? Because I am a woman and apparently, that job requires a man.

Obviously, I told them that I cannot work for them anymore. I am not willing to spend another minute of my life helping to make money for these people.

Today is the first day of the season and all the boats are out on charter - it really doesn't make good business sense to ditch one of the three people who can do anything other than clean boats/stand around posing at 6pm the night before.

We were planning a summer of working together, in a team, both getting valuable experience and sharing the responsibility of keeping these boats afloat. Now it's all gone to pot. It has been a long while since I've felt this angry.

Being judged on what I can do by the virtue of whether I have cock is pretty hard to swallow (don't snigger, child!). What do they think I do when I install a new bilge pump or rewire a light fitting or fit the water filtration system into the undersink plumbing or - shock, horror - start the engine and steer my own boat? Do I strap on a magic penis which gives me super-human powers enabling me to use a screw driver or drill holes? And this job doesn't even require any of that - but I do need to be able to show MEN how to turn on the engine, use the anchor windlass, fire up the outboard motor and turn off seacocks. Maybe it is less to do with my own inadequacies and a little more to do with theirs? To add insult to injury, they have got to get someone in today to help Tim take the boats to be refuelled as he needs crew.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

More bloody rain

Sadly I have no stats at my fingertips but the past two months have felt like the wettest period of my life. In between days of driving rain has been the occasional hint of what it could be like if it wasn't pissing it down - and believe me, it is gorgeous when the sun shines. The mountains instantly transform from grim, foreboding peaks poking their rocky outcrops through the cloud into full technicolour, 3-dimensional beauty. But not often, or so it seems.

At the end of March, our friends Andy, Kim and Cath came to visit and it forecasted rainy and chilly conditions all week. This was slightly gutting as these were our first visitors who we feared after a week of drips, wet clothes and tiny spaces, would wonder what the hell had possessed us to swap the spacious, Georgian villa that we rented at home for this floating thing. But this did not transpire. Far from it, in fact.

We drank through the rain of the first 48 hours and it seemed enough for our visitors to master crossing a precarious, wet gangplank which is poorly balanced at the best of times but takes some practice when the boat is swinging around in 25 knot winds. During the first night of partying, Tim and I spent much of it on deck checking that all was okay as the boat strained and lurched in strong winds. No one else seemed particularly bothered by the howling wind or that the boat kept violently tipping their beer off the table. Maybe they thought it was normal!

Gangplanks mastered (to a point) and an upturn in our weather fortunes made us leave our moorings at 8am, fully crewed, and we spent a day motoring around the Boka. We made it to the mouth of the Boka and rounded the island at its entrance. As soon as we'd turned towards the sea, everyone noticed the motion of the boat immediately; the swell brought the water to life and our guests finally got to see what this is really all about. It was wonderful to feel the sea and yet again, I felt that sadness which keeps coming over me, where I crave to be out there rather than tucked away in Kotor. Our time will come and we are having to be very careful where we take Monty B in her current state - but I am not known for my patience.

We managed another two days out on the water. A late afternoon/dusk pootle in Monty B which was dreamy as the sun glowed pink on the mountains and our wake glittered as the light was lost. We also spent a day aboard one of the company yachts and actually got sailing though in our usual fashion, the wind died after an hour. Is this just us? Is someone trying to tell us something?

So now they know what its like aboard Monty B.
Last Sunday we took part in Tivat Regatta. We were part of a crew of 10 on one of the company's yachts. Pedja, Tim's boss, was superb as skipper though I took some umbrance at the beginning when I asked how things were going to work with crew. "I have crew", Pedja lists 4 names and Tim. I forgot my place for a moment; of course, I am a WOMAN! There is definitely some work needed in this region on gender roles - and this isn't me being bratty; they still appear to be of the opinion that women want to get married, stay at home and have kids while men go around being "strong". Even a good (local female) friend of mine suggested that Tim should join the sailing club and when I said "yes, I'd like to do that too", she looked at me with surprise and replied "But you would put all the men off because you're too pretty". Maybe I should sail in a Burka?

Anyway, I was glad I kept my mouth shut on this particular occasion as the crew worked seamlessly in response to Pedja's cries of "Jos, jos, brzu, brzu.....etc" and there is no way that either Tim nor I could have been part of a Serbian speaking crew without having a working knowledge of the language. Though I do understand "more, more, faster, faster".

So instead the day was kicked off at 8.30am with a (down in one) glass of Rakija and there wasn't a point that I didn't have a drink in my hand until around 1am the next day. The race started around 11am and ended around 4pm (little wind). We came fifth and 2nd in class. It was fantastic sailing with such a skilled skipper. We had a surreal motor back in another yacht whose crew were too pissed to take it back to base (Tim was in charge of ensuring that the incredibly drunk skipper didn't do anything crazy - this was quite hard). Watched the sky turn pink and orange blah blah - another breathtaking sunset on the water - then after the pissed skipper had abandoned his attempts at mooring, Tim took over and we got back onto dry land and into Bandieras (our favourite bar). The day ended around 1am when I couldn't find the loo in the tiny, one-roomed bar then struggled to find the exit. I decided to quit while I was ahead.

We have been planning to get out onto anchor for weeks but the weather is still too shit. Anyway, I still have a list of jobs as long as my hair to get done before we leave shore. This includes re-wiring our crap old windlass - somehow. The wiring is working - I bypassed the switch and the motor works. The switch clicks when powered and pressed but nothing happens. The wiring all looks fine. It may be a problem with the solenoid but surely the motor wouldn't work if the solenoid was knackered. Anyway, the rain has to stop before any more progress can be made. I've cobbled together a wiring diagram from the internet so yet more terrifying games with electricity will commence later today.

Katie Squires has a job! Yes, Employee of the Month has been lured out of retirement and is now a salaried member of staff. I am employed for one day a week - though spread across several and will include about 12 hours on a Saturday so I'm not quite sure on their definition of a day. I began with cleaning boats, for which, I have discovered, I have something of an aptitude. My mother's obsessional cleaning has rubbed off on me somewhere; though still not on my own boat I am glad to say. I always wondered how you got those tiny bits of stuff off things - now I know.

Anyway, I have already been promoted (by Tim!), to do check-in and check-out which involves checking every system and item on the boats, showing clients how to use every system on the boat then making sure they haven't broken or nicked anything at the end. It actually requires quite a lot of knowledge which is all good stuff.

And on that note, I must go as it's 1245 and I still haven't turned in for work! nowt changes.

Photos of latest exploits to follow.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The right place, the right time, the right people

This afternoon, "Kotor's best" trooped on board Monty B. Onlookers thought we were having a party but there was little fun to be had. The visitors included the owner of the Kotor shipyard, a boat surveyor, a translator, Tim's colleague who is extremely knowledgeable and our friend Dave (ex super yacht skipper) who had arranged it all.

The outcome, after much poking about and serious faces, is, as suspected, that the rig is too tight for the boat. The mast appears to be sinking which could, as you can imagine, have some serious consequences. Why the rig cannot take this level of tension is another matter. There is possibly some rot in the deck around the mast step. Until the mast is taken down, it is impossible assess the extent of the problem.

However, the upside of all of this - and believe me, we were very happy with the outcome - is that it is fixable. As a temporary fix for the summer, the shipyard will be lifting our mast with a crane while we are still in the water and putting in a temporary support. The downside is that we are not going to be able to sail all summer.

In the autumn, the work begins in earnest. The plan is for the shipyard to build a cage-like structure to strengthen the inside of the hull and it will become an ocean-crossing beast. The work will be extensive and require the removal of much of the internal fittings - boo hoo - but the end product will be an incredibly strong boat with all its leaks fixed and we will have gained new skills and knowledge.

The most positive part of all of this is the warmth and support that everyone has shown us. The shipyard fully appreciate our financial and personal situation and said "How can we charge them?". They have offered to do the job at cost - with us working full time on the project. Unbelievably generous. They have also offered to teach me how to do glass-fibre work and will show me how to fix the damage on the stern.

We couldn't be in a better place to get this work done. A proven shipyard, a formidable team, a personal approach and an acceptance into the sea-faring brethren.

Interestingly, as the rig was loosened off, the hull let out some mighty cracks and immediately began to fall back into shape. There is still some distortion but nothing like it was. There is still a case to be answered on this one I think but we are not looking for anyone to blame (at the moment!).

We are just relieved that Monty B will live to see another day; albeit after a summer of floating rather than sailing (gutting - but even more incentive to get a few crewing jobs under my belt).

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Potential nightmare scenario 1

I have finally finished removing the green stripe from Monty's port side - hooray! Hours of sanding off revolting green paint by hand, whilst balancing precariously in Billy (the RIB) and getting soaked with freezing cold sea water have finally paid off. From the quay, the port aspect of Monty B looks strangely plain without its flamboyant green - but it is a big improvement.

However, the sense of fulfilment gained from a job well done has been over shadowed by my discovery whilst hull scrubbing yesterday. There appeared to be a large indentation in the hull, directly in line with the shrouds holding up our rig. Umm, that's a bit odd I thought. Hoping that it was a poor repair job from some previously undisclosed collision, I checked around the starboard side. Umm. This wasn't good; there was an identical bow in the hull on the other side. Coupled with the (seemingly ever increasing) dent in the deck around the mast step, this was irrefutable evidence that there was something going badly wrong with our boat. The pressures from the rig appear to have warped the structure of the boat. We had the rig tightened before leaving Greece.

A friend of ours, an ex-super yacht skipper and font of knowledge of all things marine, came to look at it today. Upon inspection, his expression was grim. He is arranging for the king of all things marine in Montenegro, the owner of the Kotor shipyard who has built boats for decades (as did his father and his father's father), to come along on Tuesday with an interpreter to cast a professional eye over the problem. We have also contacted Northwind - the boat builder - to see if they can shed any light on the problem.

We don't know the scale of the problem as yet or even what the underlying problem is. The rig could have been over tensioned but what is more likely, is that there is a structural weakness that has caused the hull to flex once the rig was tensioned up.

The upshot of all this is unknown but the outlook isn't too good. At best, we are going to have to shell out a great deal of cash to get this sorted. At worst, it is unfixable and we will have a boat that we can't sail and can't sell. And our dreams will be in tatters.

It is impossible to contemplate the latter until we know more.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Clouds and silver linings

The glowering clouds are wreaking havoc as they travel northwards and the water of the Boka is a deep emerald green as the mountain streams send their mineral rich, icy waters into the bay. The weather, once again, has turned unpredictable - or maybe I should say predictably stormy. The last few weeks of February were warm and sun-filled. Spring definitely felt like it was on its way with blossom sprouting and smudges of green softening the limestone crags. But March - The Old Lady as the Montenegrin's call it - has arrived with a bang. Literally in many senses: high winds sending us banging into the quay and dramatic thunderstorms streaking their way up the bay. The deep, resonant boom of thunder is incredible, bouncing off the mountain ampitheatre that surrounds us. The dogs aren't too keen, mind. We've had a couple of nights of wet and windy 3am missions on deck to pull in the anchor/lazy lines and add some extra security. 'Tis all part of the fun.

So, we've had some elemental drama - but none of this beats the drama onshore. The Base Manager left last week. He and family packed up their boat and left Montenegro which was a massive shock to both us and the company. There were lots of very good reasons for their decision and we support them completely but it left us in a potential pickle. They were the primary reason for us being here and we knew there was no way Tim could do the job alone - both in terms of volume of work and the technical expertise required. We were also going to miss them as friends; we'd spent every day with them since coming here so it's been pretty weird not having them around. I can't say much more about the situation for obvious reasons.

We were pretty gutted as it looked like we may have to leave too. Tim loves his job (weirdo) and is very keen to see out the season here. It will be invaluable experience. We have also started to make some friends and have suddenly acquired a fully-fledged social life. This is always something I am going to struggle to do without; that much I have recognised in the last 8 months. We also love this country. It is a place of unpolished beauty which drips history from every stone and we are no way finished here.

So, we decided to stay and see what happened. And so far, things are actually looking quite positive. The company have recruited a local engineer (who Tim is currently out beering with) who knows his stuff and due to his Montenegrin language skills, seems to be good at persuading other Montenegrins to get things done (funny that!). So for the moment, we are quite optimistic that we will be seeing out the summer here afterall. Hooray!

One of the better parts of Tim's job over the past month has been taking boats back and forth from the boatyard in Tivat for haul-out, cleaning and anti-fouling. I have crewed on several jaunts and it has been brilliant getting back out onto the water. The highlights have included getting the sails out on a top of the range 54 foot Jeanneau. It began with a momentarily terrifying fifteen minutes of trying to work out why the head sail halyard had dropped the huge sail into the sea - this was followed by the mainsail doing exactly the same thing at which point I knew it had to be something I'd done rather than a broken halyard and managed to quickly remedy the situation. What followed was an hour of blissful sailing. It all felt very natural and easy; a lot easier than getting our boat to fly I have to say - but then we have an entire harbour's worth of crustaceans and weed attached to the bottom of our boat which doesn't help.

Today we brought a boat back in weather we wouldn't have considered poking our noses out in several months ago. As we left the mooring buoy, it took full revs to move forwards with the wind on our nose and within minutes lightening ripped open the sky, followed 5 seconds later by a deep rumble. By the time we had reached the channel which leads from one large bay to another, there were thunderstorms either side of us and a towering beast of a cloud with a white-out of rain following us. The engine was emitting more smoke and less water than it should too. I admit that my pulse quickened but I felt exhiliarated rather than in any scared and realised just how far we've gone since last August. As it happens, we strangely managed to skirt both storms and only got a mild drenching. Witch powers ahoy!

Another memorable trip we've had over the past month was taking a catamaran to Bar, around 40 miles down the Adriatic coast. We left Kotor under a deep blue sky with mist rising from the water and cloaking the city walls as it rose towards St Ivan's fort. As we reached the Prcanj/Stoliv end of the Boka, the sea turned to ice. The narrow hulls of the cat sliced through the patterned sheets with a soft crunch, sending round plates of ice twirling across the water. It was one of those "had to be there" moments as the photos do not do it justice.

Oh, and not to be forgotten (I should update this more often), we took Monty out for a shake-down Sunday sail with our new mates, Jason and Birgitte. It was fantastic - got 5 knots out of her in full sail which isn't great but as I say, her bottom is encrusted (the boat's, not Birgitte's who happens to have a great arse because she is Danish). We had a great day and a sign of things to come I reckon.

And one last thing, Karneval. Two entire weeks of celebrations which involved lots of majorettes, from infants to developed young women. There is something not quite right about little girls in very short skirts, wiggling their hips in a suggestive manner. We stood in the rain and watched Klapa singing which is traditional acapella-type stuff and was actually good. And while our friends Gareth and Elaine were watching Jeff Mills do his stuff in Granada, we had our cockles warmed by the pop grup Bonoco, singing about "Rrock end rool" and various other offerings. The climax of all this fun - yes, it does get even better - was the Maskenbal (Masked Ball) at Disko Maximus (which, despite its name, is super-club quality - top dollar sound systems, lights, lasers, 4 rooms, plays techno and electro, has big name djs). The Maskenbal cost 5 euros to get in, was rammed (which is good in some ways as it stops you falling over) and played mostly Serbian pop music which, to my vodka/redbull/sudafed ears, sounded just like ska and I danced my socks off all night. We didn't get round to the mask element either which was a good job as no one else bothered.

Tim has now been out drinking with his new Montenegrin pal for 3 hours. Good on him. I'm getting some points in the bag for Saturday night when I'm off to Disko Maximus to see David Morales (yes, house music, but beggars can't be choosers).

Oh, and see our latest pics -

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Can living aboard and rain ever be compatible?

------ Fake chamois leather - the most useful cloth in the world on a leaking boat-----------

I never realise how much I hate the rain until it brightens up. It's a bit like having PMT: your world becomes annoying and irritating and in turn you become growly. But it is only when it is over that you recognise its cause.

One of my main concerns prior to moving onto Monty B was how I would cope with living in a small space. But it very rarely feels like a small space as part of living on a boat is recognising that the world outside is also your home. Even having the hatches open, with fresh air and sunlight flowing through the cabins, you can bring the outside, in. When it is raining, my world becomes damp, dull and enclosed. So, get out and do something I hear you say. Well, yes, I could and I do - I have two dogs afterall. However, you then have the added mood-dampener of damp dogs, wet clothes and boots and the associated indoor washing lines. Plus I've cricked my neck so can't turn my head and shouting at dogs in the wrong direction is a recipe for a sore throat.

So instead, I'm nesting and waiting for the clouds to part. There is plenty to do down below anyway but instead of continuing to work out how to instal the car stereo into our electrical system I decided to teach myself how to make good Turkish coffee. My Montenegrin teacher, Dinka, made me a spot-on cup of coffee on Monday so I bought an ibrik (coffee pot) and some local coffee. Only moments ago, I followed these instructions - - and the results looked amazingly similar to the photo at the bottom of the article. So, when I've finished this post, I'm going to have to try again. My efforts were drinkable though so this morning's activities are twofold: learning the art of Turkish coffee making and discovering how much Turkish coffee I can drink before I am a) sick or b) have a heart attack.

To double the effect, I treated myself to a bag of chocolate coated coffee beans yesterday and I am busily ploughing through them. A luxury not found (so far) in Montenegro but I made the most of my first trip to Croatia by spending a stupid amount of money in Lidl (which feels like the equivalent of going to Waitrose in the UK, compared to the offerings of the Montenegrin supermarkets - I hate to say stuff like that but I am yet to be proved wrong - if anyone wants to prove me wrong, please please do). As well as stocking up on pesto (it is 3.50euros here), coffee beans (cannot buy here) and good muesli, I also bought a pressure cooker. I "put" it under my seat on the way back and it was spotted by customs coming over the border which was potentially fraught with bureaucratic nightmares and import duty (it had taken an hour to get through the border crossing already and we were the only vehicle!) but somehow the copper was distracted and didn't get back to it.

Apparently, a pressure cooker will save us quids on gas but it will take some getting used to. I used it to make a soup last night and it was strange experience - I have never been scared whilst cooking before and it actually took far longer to make than usual (something wrong here!) as I was terrified of blowing my own head off with an exploding, heavy metal pan.

To end, I give you another example of my creativity - a new, improved and recycled drip catcher made from plastic water bottles which replaces buckets (which always get knocked over, rendering their use utterly pointless) and tupperware containers.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Musings from Montenegro

I haven't posted for ages. It's not that there isn't anything to report; it is just that most of what has happened since we've arrived here is not reportable. Seriously.

I can't believe we've only been here 6 weeks; it feels like much longer. Life has taken on a veneer of normality but every week has had it's own dramas and we've mentally, if not practically, packed our bags on several occasions. However, a routine has been imposed on us for the first time since the summer due to the affliction of paid work. Yikes, sorry - I know that's not the attitude. Funnily enough, as I was listening to the Today Programme this morning, there was some bloke on there from the DHSS talking about "Motivational Training" for doleys. Maybe I could do with a bit of that, eh.

Anyway, 7.30 every morning, the alarm goes off and Tim dons his thermals in preparation for a day of manual labour. His outer wear is a navy blue jumpsuit/overall affair and a matching padded jerkin. It suits him down to the ground - no thought needed as to what to wear, no washing required and completely practical. He would wear it out on a saturday night if I let him.
He spends his days fixing things on boats and loves it. He comes back to the boat at lunchtime, and I feed him like the dutiful wife I am whilst creating an atmosphere of intense activity aboard (to hide the reality of a morning of internet addiction and yoga). Semi-darkness falls around 2.30pm as the sun dips behind the mountains to the south west - we have around 4 hours of sunlight a day due to being buried at the foot of high mountains and the angle of sun at this time of year - actual darkness occurs around 5pm now so that heralds the end of Tim's working day. This usually coincides with the end of my shouty dog walk, where I take the dogs somewhere up the mountain behind us and continually bray them for their death-defying stunts as they scale the fortifications that creep up the mountainside. When they are not trying to give me a heart attack, they choose to terrorise the local goat population - the one with the bad leg is Jonny's particular favourite. Due to the latest episode, John is now permanently on a lead which is no fun for any of us but he isn't to be trusted where hairy things that run are concerned.
The view from our boat is still staggering despite seeing it all day, every day for six weeks and walking through the narrow streets of the old town always feels very special. It is a place where the imagination is fired every time you set foot on land whether it be from the medieval architecture, the scenery or the people. You can feel the history of the place, despite the best efforts of property developers to sanitise the place (all in good taste but too clean). I like the broken bits and the rotting, heavy timber doorways. As I return from the mountainside via the dimly-lit steep, cobbled backstreets with washing suspended between the houses, it could be any time in the last 500 years and the atmosphere seeps into your very core.
Kotor sits in a basin, at the end of a deep water valley which looks very much like a fjord (but isn't one). The basin is enclosed by towering mountains, the highest of which you cannot see from land as they rise behind smaller, rugged peaks. The landscape is rocky and bare with the occasional covering of evergreens, interspersed with hardy plants where the sheer cliffs give way to the odd crevasse or plateau. When the bay is cloaked in mist and cloud, as it is occasionally, the scene is mystical and dramatic. But more usually, despite it being mid-winter, high pressure dominates the weather systems so most days are cloudless and bright. The peaks, often snow-covered, soar upwards into the piercing blue sky looking like a painted film set from an old western. As the sun sets, the limestone turns pink and the edges soften. It is simply stunning.
We are moored up on the quay in Kotor, just over the road from Stari Grad (old town) which is a compact walled medieval city. The sea forms a moat on one side and a river runs along the other. The remaining city walls scale the mountainside, zig-zagging precipitously to an imposing fort at the top. Behind that, the mountain falls away to a vertical cliff, reaching hundreds of feet below to a rocky valley. This in turn is backed by the higher craggy peaks, which look completely inaccessible from down below.
Living next to a busy main road was a shock to the system after months of tranquility at anchor. The pay-offs are mains electricity (heating and hot water - essential in these temperatures) and ease of access to land-based pursuits. I'm looking forward to being back on anchor again though. We need to wait until it is warm enough that we can live without heating and hot water and that the sun is high enough to give us a decent amount of solar power. We need to get our own heating system for next winter - hopefully a diesel heating system - and a wind turbine. That way we can be totally independent and won't need hook-up. However, we would need to be somewhere sheltered and there isn't much option around here - the quay is the most sheltered place around. I wouldn't want to be out in the bay when the Bora blows (as it is today). The Bora comes screaming down the mountains from the north east, with an intense ferocity that whips up the water and sends the boat bouncing around, grating on the nerves and the stomach. It remains to be seen how common this is in the spring/summer months but it could be the source of a few sleepless nights. However, I hanker for the all-consuming experience and tranquility of being away from the rest of the world, swinging around on our hook, acutely aware of every breath of wind with an eye permanently fixed on the coming weather. And having the ability to haul anchor at a moment's notice and go off for a day or two's adventuring. I miss that. That is what I love about living on our boat - at the moment, it's a bit like a floating caravan. A warm and convenient caravan, however.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Happy birthday to me

It’s my 37th birthday today.
I am now definitely closer to 40 than I am 30 but the thought doesn’t worry me as much as it once would have done. I am finally happy with the direction my life is taking.
I was 30 years old when my life changed forever with the (sort-of) sudden death of my father. It was not just the experience of grief and the gaping hole left in my life that changed me – nor the new-found freedom of having some money (I could have always had money – I chose to spend every penny of my decent salary on “enjoying myself” rather than saving enough to be able to make the change).

The thing that ultimately changed was my outlook on life. I was 30, my dad was 60. So, by my reckoning, I had another three lots of ten years to go – and that was it! And as we all know, every year goes quicker and when I looked back at the last decade, it had passed fast enough. For the first time in 30 years, I realised what life was.

I had always felt a strong element of falseness in my life. Everything I did (when sober) felt like I was acting out a part that I was being forced to play; nothing felt real, everything felt manufactured. I lived in a box, travelled in a box, sat in a box all day then each evening, I worked off my so-called frustrations in a big box that we were allowed to run around in. My only pleasure in life was to be found in the big box of water and even then, I grew angry each time my eyes stung with piss-reactive chlorine and children got in my way as I swam those punishing lengths.

For years, whilst sitting on the bus on my way to work, I would seethe as I watched my fellow passengers numb their tiny brains with word-search puzzles and cheap celebrity-stalking magazines. I would feel a disproportional level of rage towards them – how could they do this every day? Did they actually enjoy it? The hard techno banging its way into my brain, soundless to the outsider due to Sennheiser headphones, served only to remind me what I could be doing if I wasn’t at work.

Stepping off the bus and walking towards the office was a flicker book of images; every word on every sign, poster, scribbles of graffiti had been implanted in my brain the first time I’d seen them and its repetition day after day made my chest tight. Taking a deep breath, I’d slap on the Happy Squires enthusiastic head and cheerfully greet my colleagues whilst casually glancing at the clock to see how late I was. The door would shut as I removed my headphones. Thum! I had entered a soulless vacuum, sucking any life and originality out of me; my head had become encased in metal air and the screws were being turned, tighter and tighter.

So, as you see, I needed to make some changes in my life.

So, taking baby steps, I got rid of the job (then accidentally got another one) then eventually the furniture, house and car. By the time I was 35, I had nothing left in my name other than a mobile phone and a bank account.

Two years on and I’m finally alive. I've got my Timmy, my dogs, my boat and my freedom. I’m living the dream though it feels more real than anything has ever done before. It has taken 36 years to get here but I’m finally on the right track.
I only wish my dad was here to see it.
Birthday card courtesy of my fantastic friends, Gareth and Elaine. They are not insinuating that Tim may have forgotten to get me a present, that I like a drink or that the dogs like cake.